If you want to lead, serve. If you want to serve, lead. What? How does that work?

Ut Prosim – That I May Serve

“Serve to lead; lead to serve.” I use this phrase often, but it leaves some people in a quandary. What does it mean exactly?

Let’s break it down.


Leaders are people who get things accomplished by inspiring others to help in the effort. Good leaders do this by helping their team succeed in their roles so that the mission overall will succeed. This focus on helping others is service as is helping further the mission in general.

Hence, great leadership requires a service mentality committed to engaging with team members to help them understand the mission and learn what they need to do to be successful. It requires providing the tools and resources that will allow success and then empowering team members to get the work done. And finally, it requires encouragement to keep the team moving forward to overcome obstacles. This is all service and is necessary if a leader wants ultimate success.

For most people, except for those who refuse to accept that service is part of a leader’s calling, that all seems straightforward. The other half of the phrase though, this is where things get sticky for many.


How exactly does one lead to serve?

Think about someone who is in a service role. They step up to help others accomplish things. With pride in their work and a willingness to share their skill and knowledge to make others successful, they demonstrate a leadership mentality.

Here is an example. Once, while working in a restaurant, I was privileged to work with a waiter who was uncompromisingly committed to service, and in doing so, he showed the rest of the team what leadership was all about. His dedication to excellence and helping not only guests in the restaurant but fellow employees was an inspiration. His continual striving for excellence led everyone around him, intended or not. He had the mind of a leader and that made him a better server.


Given all that we have discussed, “serve to lead; lead to serve” might be more accurately put like this, “to lead better, serve more; to serve better, think like a leader.”

Regardless, hopefully it got you thinking. How can you use these ideas to improve what you do? If you are in a leadership role, how can you begin serving your team more? If you are in a serving role, how can you think more like a leader and inspire those around you with a renewed commitment to excellence?

Take these ideas and run with them. Be a difference maker. Serve to lead; lead to serve.

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